Showing posts with label South Asia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Asia. Show all posts

29 August 2021

Can Central Asia Help Russia Cajole the Taliban?

John Ruehl

Thirty years after the last Soviet tank left Afghanistan, the Kremlin is openly exploiting the power vacuum caused by the abrupt U.S. departure. Though Russia is cooperating with the Taliban and other regional powers in Afghanistan, it is so far keeping them at arm’s length.

Russia’s renewed interest in Afghanistan comes in several forms. The potential for instability to spread into the post-Soviet Central Asian states and into Russia itself is an obvious concern. As in Syria, the Kremlin is keen to prevent a breeding ground fostering ISIS and Islamic extremism. The prospect of a sharp rise in drug trafficking and a refugee crisis has also made the issue of Afghanistan’s border security paramount to Russia’s.

Beyond that, Afghanistan’s plentiful natural resources have always had considerate appeal. While Russia no doubt wishes to exploit such reserves, it also wants to prevent Afghanistan from emerging as a resource powerhouse that could undermine revenue streams for Russian energy companies. A stronger influence over Afghanistan would also give the Kremlin significant geopolitical leverage at the crossroads of China, the Indian subcontinent, and the Middle East.

6 August 2021

Sri Lanka’s Bid To Bridge ‘Trust Deficit’ With India – Analysis

P. K. Balachandran

The Sri Lankan High Commissioner-designate to India, Milinda Moragoda, has communicated to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, that frequent, multifarious and systematized interactions with India from the top-most level to the bottom, are necessary to rid the India-Sri Lanka relationship of “distrust”, which has plagued it for decades.

Moragoda, who is take up his assignment in New Delhi later this month, said in his concept paper entitled: “Integrated Country Strategy: For Sri Lanka Diplomatic Missions in India,” that lack of trust has made the relationship “transactional” (meaning a relationship based on bargaining, and therefore, lacking in warmth and a natural flow). Disturbingly, the transactional character has grown in recent times due to certain geo-political changes (presumably the growing China-factor in Sri Lanka).

However, this need not be so, says Moragoda. Given the millennia of multifarious and unbroken interactions between Sri Lanka and India, the relationship ought to be a “special one” marked by “inter-dependence, mutual respect and affection.” But such a makeover can only come with increased, all round, frequent and structured interactions from the top-most level to the bottom, he submits.

3 August 2021

Be Careful What You Wish For: Russia, China and Afghanistan after the Withdrawal

Jeffrey Mankoff

The ongoing withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan aims to put an end to what has been the United States’ longest war. The departure is accelerating the long-running effort on the part of Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Russia, China and other regional stakeholders, to shape Afghanistan’s future and secure their own interests in the wider region. Their ability to do so will depend on multiple factors, not least the extent to which the U.S.-backed Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani can maintain control in the face of escalating Taliban attacks and the questionable willingness and capacity of the security forces to fight back.

For Russia and China, the U.S. departure will be a moment of truth. Both argue that the U.S. is leaving behind a failed state, risking not only renewed civil war in Afghanistan but also wider regional destabilization. At the same time, Beijing and Moscow have long been skeptical of the U.S. ability to solve the Afghan problem, and worry that the conflict was providing Washington an excuse to maintain a military presence in Eurasia that could be used to check their own ambitions.

26 July 2021

What Does a Taliban Government Mean for the Rest of South Asia?

Aditya Gowdara Shivamurthy

For decades, India has had a security policy that is preoccupied with its north (China) and west (Pakistan). Facilitating this preoccupation is the fact that, in a decade or so, India has had no major terrorist and internal security challenge from its neighbors to the east and south. However, there is an emerging strategic change, that now seems to challenge India’s security from these directions.

With the Taliban making sweeping gains and capturing new territories in Afghanistan, transnational threats such as radicalization and terrorism pose an increasing threat to the region. This has become more and more clear as several reports indicate that the Taliban are sheltering several affiliates and commanders of al-Qaida, including the al-Qaida Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) branch, which has cadres and operational bases across the subcontinent.

Although there has been much discussion of how the Taliban would impact India, Pakistan and China, less thought has been given to how the Taliban could impact other smaller South Asian states, and thereby India.

25 July 2021

Russia to Hold Military Drills Near Afghan Border in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan

Catherine Putz

Following military drills with Tajikistan last week, the commander of Russia’s Central Military District said on July 19 that Russia would hold drills with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in early August.

The flurry of activity comes in the wake of the Taliban’s pressing offensive across the border from Central Asia. In early July, the fight in Afghanistan drove more than 1,000 Afghan troops to flee into Tajikistan. While the Afghan troops have been repatriated, and the Taliban promised to keep to the Afghan side of the border, Central Asia and Russia aren’t sitting idle.

Russia’s 201st Military Base in Tajikistan is one of its most significant foreign bases, with an estimated 7,000 troops. Actually made up of three installations, the former Soviet base remained under Russian control after the collapse of the Soviet Union and through the Tajik Civil War. The base, formerly known as the 201st Motor Rifle Division, continued to patrol the Afghan-Tajik border until 2005, when Tajik forces took over that task. Moscow’s military presence in Tajikistan, previously set to expire in 2014, was extended to 2042 in 2013.

Greater Coordination in Central Asian Responses to Afghan Border Troubles

Umida Hashimova

When the first group of Afghan servicemen crossed into Tajikistan on June 21 and later to Uzbekistan on June 23 as the Taliban were making territorial gains, each Central Asian country reacted differently, despite experiencing the same security implications from the incursions.

Now Tajikistan’s approach seems to be converging with Uzbekistan’s as Dushanbe returned all the servicemen back to Afghanistan and announced additional measures to strengthen the border area with military troops. President Emomali Rahmon personally visited border guards to provide a morale boost. Turkmenistan’s response, however, remains fully uncoordinated. It chose the path of supposedly secret negotiations with the Taliban and denied news of Ashgabat militarily reinforcing its Afghan border with heavy equipment.

On July 5, Tajikistan ordered the mobilization of 20,000 military reservists for the reinforcement of country’s border with Afghanistan. Tajikistan’s president also visited two Afgan-Tajik border posts to check the readiness of military assets. He made speeches in what seemed to be an effort to stoke patriotic sentiments and emphasize the significance of the mission providing security on the border.

24 July 2021

Expanding and Escalating the China-Bhutan Territorial Dispute

Sudha Ramachandran

Introduction
At the 10th Expert Group Meeting on the Bhutan-China Boundary Issue, held from April 6 to 9 in Kunming, Yunnan Province, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Kingdom of Bhutan agreed to hold the 25th round of boundary talks at a “mutually convenient time as soon as possible” (PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), April 9). The last round of talks was held in April 2016, and the next round was apparently put off first due to the Doklam crisis in 2017 and then delayed because of Bhutan’s general elections and a change in government the following year (The Bhutanese, October 26, 2019).

Meanwhile, the Sino-Bhutanese border dispute has become more complicated, with China escalating its claims and taking robust steps to change the status quo on the ground. According to Smruti S. Pattanaik, an Indian analyst on South Asian security issues, “it is very likely that China will raise its new territorial claims [at the upcoming border talks] as a pressure tactic.”[1] The talks will be closely monitored not just in Beijing and Thimphu but also in New Delhi. Under the 2007 India-Bhutan Treaty of Friendship, India is virtually responsible for Bhutan’s security (India Ministry of External Affairs, March 5, 2007). Additionally, China’s claims to territories in Bhutan have major implications for India’s national security and territorial integrity.

A Fateful Moment for the CSTO on the Afghan Border

Shuhrat Baratov

The Taliban’s blitz in major cities in the Afghan provinces bordering Tajikistan, which resulted in more than 1,500 Afghan soldiers fleeing across the border, alarmed officials in Dushanbe. On July 5, Tajikistan’s Security Council decided to mobilize 20,000 reservists in response and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon reached out to his counterparts in Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan to discuss the security concerns over the phone.

On July 7, Tajikistan’s representative in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) requested “an adequate response within the framework of the CSTO, including the adoption of measures to strengthen the capacity to protect the southern borders.” Addressing Tajikistan’s concern, the Chief of the Joint Staff of the CSTO Anatoly Sidorov stated that the situation does not require the CSTO’s involvement as the Tajik border forces are in control of it. He concluded so after urgently visiting Tajikistan, where he observed the situation in the border zone and held talks with Tajik officials on July 7-9.

2 July 2021

Nepal’s Supreme Court Flexes Its Muscles

Sambridh Ghimire

Yet another crisis has erupted in Himalayan nation of Nepal. Last week, the Supreme Court nullified the appointment of 20 ministers inducted by Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli. According to its interim order, the Supreme Court has directed respondents, including the office of the president, not to allow the 20 ministers to administer their office. This comes against the backdrop of a challenge in the Supreme Court to the recent dissolution of the country’s Parliament.

The Supreme Court opined that following the dissolution, according to Article 77(1)(c), the prime minister is ipso facto no longer a member of the House of Representatives. In that case, Article 77(3)(1) applies, which states: “the same Council of Ministers shall continue to act until another Council of Ministers is constituted.” Furthermore, the Supreme court said that the incumbent cabinet would continue with no further expansions in these exceptional circumstances. It also categorically stated that the prime minister had no prima facie authority to expand the cabinet in this situation.

29 May 2021

Opinion – The Coming of Age of the European Union’s Indo-Pacific Strategy

Shreya Sinha

At a time when the Indo-Pacific narrative is getting well-established across the globe amidst great conflict of military tensions and civil unrest, the European Union has also released its own strategy towards it. Given that the region has been ignored by the supranational Union for decades, there are several factors as to why the EU chose to act on constructively associating itself with the Indo-Pacific now. The reasons for this move include pressures from its Member States namely France, Germany and Netherlands. Further, the need to counter China’s revisionist challenge and its politico-economic rise along with the quest of the EU to establish itself as a relevant geopolitical actor to realize its global power aspirations remain primary triggers.

The geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific is at its highest developed stage in history, contributing to nearly 60% of the global GDP and being home to three of the four largest economies outside of the EU (India, China, Japan). Owing to its geographical reality, the region is central to global value chains, international trade and investment flows and is also at the forefront of digital economy. The Strategy launched in April 2021 recommits the EU politically to the region with the aim of “contributing to its stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development, based on the promotion of democracy, rule of law, human rights and international law”. Through its said commitments, the EU realizes the need to build upon its existing relationships with multiple regional players, India, Japan and South Korea, given the international air of mutual distrust and competition.

4 March 2021

The World Faces a Choice Between Bad and Worse in Myanmar

By David Hutt

The Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire put it that “washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” And that, I give you, is the myth of ASEAN’s “non-interference.” Is that about to change now that Indonesia has taken it upon itself to try to reach some sort of resolution to the military coup in Myanmar?

The United States has clearly shown it’s unwilling to expend the energy needed to roll back the military’s power, after imposing only targeted sanctions that almost all pundits agree won’t convince the junta to step down. The European Union, even after taking three weeks to merely decide on whether they’ll impose sanctions or not, a decision taken on February 22, has still not announced what those measures will be, but everyone expects them to be even more limited than America’s. China clearly isn’t happy about the events but isn’t about to support the international community pressuring an authoritarian elite to remove itself from power, for very obvious reasons.

Small wonder, then, that the likes of Indonesia and Brunei, as ASEAN chair, sense they might occupy an important position in this vacuum. Things are messy. Earlier in the week, it was leaked to the media that Jakarta might be ready to accept the junta’s promise to hold fresh elections, a revelation that prompted protests outside of Indonesia’s embassy in Yangon and Bangkok by Burmese pro-democracy protesters, who are still demanding that the junta hands power back to the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, which won November’s general election.

8 January 2021

How Damaging Was 2020 to Central Asia’s Economies?

By Catherine Putz

It’s no surprise that the World Bank’s latest economic prospects update forecasts a “subdued” recovery as the world staggers out of 2020. It’s too early to truly tell whether the coronavirus pandemic is anywhere near over, vaccines aside, given the more virulent new strain that emerged in the U.K. late last year. But a regular stock-taking of the global economic situation is a helpful, if momentarily so, barometer.

The World Bank expects global economic output to expand 4 percent in 2021, “but still remain more than 5 percent below its pre-pandemic trend.” For emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs), the World Bank forecasts growth at a 5 percent rate in 2021, but with output far below pre-pandemic outlooks. Critically, “The pandemic is likely to steepen the long-expected slowdown in potential growth over the next decade, undermining prospects for poverty reduction.”

As for 2020, the World Bank estimates a global contraction of 4.3 percent; the contraction in EMDEs was less sharp, at 2.6 percent. But if China is excluded from the EMDE group, which one can argue it should be, the contraction was 5 percent among emerging market and developing economies.

9 December 2020

Why the India-Sri Lanka-Maldives NSA-level Talks Matter

By Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Last week, Colombo hosted an India-Sri Lanka-Maldives trilateral maritime security dialogue. The meeting saw the revival of the national security advisor (NSA)-level dialogue among the three countries, which began almost a decade ago in 2011. That the meeting took place six years after the last edition in 2014 is significant. Both Sri Lanka and the Maldives are rcritical maritime neighbors to India in the Indian Ocean region and there have been continuous efforts by both India and China to win friends and favors in Colombo and Male.

The NSA-level talks are also a demonstration of the Indian intent to push subregional diplomacy, which has been gaining traction in India’s foreign policy in the last few years. The Modi government has made efforts to engage in subregional diplomacy as a useful track following the near-complete halt in regional diplomacy in South Asia under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). 

8 December 2020

How Asia can boost growth through technological leapfrogging

By Oliver Tonby, Jonathan Woetzel, Noshir Kaka, Wonsik Choi, Anand Swaminathan

Asia’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was partly enabled by technological foundations developed long before the crisis. Over the past decade, the region has developed and deepened its technological capabilities and infrastructure rapidly, accounting for a large share of global growth in technology company revenue start-up funding, spending on R&D, and patents filed.

There is more to come, given the potential to leapfrog in the region’s technological development based on the scale of markets and investment and the speed of adoption and intellectual property (IP) creation. However, tariff and data flow barriers, standards, export controls, and research barriers pose new risks. Moreover, Asia still needs to overcome gaps in core capabilities.

This paper is part of a series focused on the Future of Asia. This research focuses on Asian economies, describing growth in major technological indicators, exploring characteristics of growth in technological capabilities, and homing in on four major sector opportunities—with challenges in each—where Asia has significant scope for technological leapfrogging.

14 November 2020

Xi Champions Multilateralism at SCO Amid COVID Concerns and Sino-Indian Tensions

By Eleanor Albert

Chinese leader Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech via videolink at the meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on Tuesday. His remarks called for the SCO to take on a more robust role in addressing transnational challenges with an emphasis on building communities of heath, security, development, and cultural exchange.

Ahead of the meeting, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng previewed Xi’s message, saying that “China expects all sides to use the summit as an opportunity to strengthen the sense of community with a shared future, reach a new consensus on cooperation and formulate new cooperation measures, to inject strong impetus into achieving common development and rejuvenation.”

As is typically the case with SCO summit remarks, Xi offered aspirational messaging, peppered with a few tangible propositions. For example, Xi said “The SCO needs to expand its network of partnerships and conduct extensive cooperation with observers, dialogue partners, the UN and other international organizations. It should play a more active role in international and regional affairs, and stay committed to building an open, inclusive, clean and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security and common prosperity.”

31 October 2020

Sri Lanka Will Soon Have to Pick a Side in the China-US Rivalry

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Sri Lankan foreign policy over the last 15 years, especially after the end of the civil war in 2009, can be described as a series of desperate attempts to balance the interests of major powers that have a keen interest of the country, which is strategically located at the heart of the Indian Ocean.

The post-2009 agreements with competing countries, which have drawn Sri Lanka into the tensions between China and the United States and its allies, can be directly linked to the country’s economic woes.

With the liberalization of the economy, the gap between export earnings and import expenditure has been rising, with Sri Lanka now having a serious balance of payment crisis. The largest part of the country’s foreign loan portfolio, estimated to be nearly 50 percent, is made up of dollar-denominated international sovereign bonds, followed by debts to the Asian Development Bank, Japan, China and the World Bank.

To address its balance of payment issue, the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, which governed Sri Lanka between 2005 and 2015, attempted to secure financial lifelines from China and an injection of FDI through China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Rajapaksa hails from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP,) which has historically been close to China. By 2018, Sri Lanka had secured up to $8 billion in BRI financing from China, for the construction of major infrastructure projects.

Of these projects, the most visible and important are the Colombo International Financial City (CIFC) and the Hambantota port and adjoining industrial estate. Built on reclaimed land, CIFC is expected to serve as Sri Lanka’s financial and business district by 2030. Meanwhile, Hambantota port, which lies close to sea lanes through which two-thirds of China’s oil imports pass, is essential for China’s energy security.

28 October 2020

Sri Lanka’s Changing Relationship to Chinese Loans

By Umesh Moramudali

The recent visit of Yang Jiechi, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo member and previously China’s foreign minister, to Sri Lanka sparked interest among many. To begin with, Sri Lanka’s opposition raised concerns about the visit of the Chinese delegation amid a global pandemic and the delegation not being subject to usual quarantine practices. These concerns were followed by the widely speculated Chinese debt trap narrative in light of the discussions held between Sri Lankan leaders and the Chinese delegation. Those discussions were largely about economic corporation between two countries – and of course the Chinese loans and investments.

Subsequent to these discussions, China provided 600 million renminbi ($90 million, or 16.5 billion Sri Lankan rupees) in grant assistance in an agreement signed by Wang Xiaotao, chairman of the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA). Local newspapers reported that during the visit of the Chinese delegation, there were discussions about obtaining a $500 million syndicated loan from China Development Bank (CDB).

A unique feature of a syndicated loan, or Foreign Currency Term Financing Facility (FTFF) as it is also known, is that the loan is not attached to a project, thus the Sri Lankan government has the liberty to use the loan money at their will. This is contrary to project loans, in which loan money should be strictly used only for project purposes. Hence, a project loan does not provide a way out from a balance of payment crisis in the short term. Often, when Sri Lanka has faced balance of payment (BOP) issues, they seek the support of the IMF, which provided short-term loans to strengthen foreign reserves, thereby assisting Sri Lanka to manage immediate BOP issues.

This scenario of seeking China’s financial support can be seen as an indication of shifting debt dynamics between Sri Lanka and China. It doesn’t mean that Sri Lanka would stop borrowing from China or significantly reduce obtaining Chinese loans, but it does indicate a change of the nature of Chinese loans obtained by Sri Lanka.

16 October 2020

Could Bangladesh and Pakistan Make Waves by Cooperating on Climate Change?

By Kashoon Leeza

In a rare instance of backchannel diplomacy between the two countries, Bangladesh and Pakistan have indicated a desire to advance cultural and economic ties. Previously, the two countries have been at odds with each other following the 1971 war. With the recent interaction initiating prospective reconciliation, fight against climate change could lend itself as a ground for building mutual trust and an impetus to resolve difficulties in the relationship.

However novel the idea may seem, history lauds the precedents that exist. While France and Germany shared a history of bitter ties, what brought the two adversaries on the same side of table was the threat of a common enemy, the Soviet Union. Similarly, in the case of Bangladesh and Pakistan the common enemy is climate change, given both are among top 10 vulnerable countries to climate change according to Global Climate Risk Index 2020. Even more relatable is the Sino-Japanese environmental cooperation that helped China and Japan reconcile their historic animosity.

Leaders on both sides have prioritized climate change response, evident from commitment to the cause even in 2018 election manifestos of the ruling parties in both countries. Redressal of the Pakistan-Bangladesh relationship promises two-way benefits, environmental and strategic. Mindful of the gravity of climate-change induced threats, a collaborative framework could not only help mitigate environmental threats but also address securitized regional issues.

In South Asia, a host of researches on the heels of climate-prone events rationalize that the issue of climate change has moved past from being an environmental concern to being a non-traditional national security threat. Climate change induced impacts, shared by Pakistan and Bangladesh, are coming to the forefront as underlying socioeconomic vulnerabilities.

7 September 2020

Political Violence in South Asia: The Triumph of the State?

PAUL STANILAND

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, anti-state rebellions were an endemic feature of South Asia’s political landscape. Both separatist and revolutionary insurgencies presented serious challenges in India; Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, rose with frightening speed to challenge a long-complacent Pakistani security establishment; Maoist insurgents mobilized against the Nepali government; the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE; “Tamil Tigers”) carved out a de facto state in northern Sri Lanka; and some predicted a rising violent Islamist tide in Bangladesh. In extreme cases, there were fears of partial or total state failure.

Yet by 2020, the state is ascendant in South Asia. Most anti-state revolts across the subcontinent have been crushed, demobilized, or contained. The major insurgencies in India have seen a downward trend in lethal violence; the TTP has been badly degraded; the Tamil Tigers have been destroyed; Nepal’s Maoists have been incorporated into a new Nepali political system; and Bangladesh’s descent into “competitive authoritarianism” has been grimly accompanied by a reduction in direct anti-state violence.1

Governments have established greater control of previously contested territories, deployed new technologies of surveillance, and, in some cases, fused party rule with state coercive power. New forms of state and non-state coercion have become more politically prominent, especially localized mob and vigilante violence, which are often linked to, rather than aimed at, the state and ruling parties. These changes are neither universal nor irreversible: important conflicts persist and continue to exact a severe human cost. Nevertheless, the landscape of political violence in much of the region is strikingly different in 2020 than in years like 2004 or 2010.

29 August 2020

When land comes in the way: India’s connectivity infrastructure in Nepal

Constantino Xavier and Riya Sinha

Support for this research was generously provided by the Omidyar Network’s Property Rights Research Consortium (PRRC). Brookings India recognises that the value it provides is in its absolute commitment to quality, independence, and impact. Activities supported by its donors reflect this commitment and the analysis and recommendations found in this report are solely determined by the scholar(s).

Around half of the Indian government’s economic assistance to neighbouring countries in South Asia goes to the infrastructure sector, including roads, railways, ports, and other projects. Between 2014-18, this total investment in cross-border connectivity amounted to around Rs10,000 crores (approximately US$ 1,461 million). [1] These development cooperation projects are a critical component for India to achieve one of its most important foreign policy objectives: to tie its domestic economy closer to neighbouring countries and accelerate regional integration.

Funded by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and executed by Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs) or private contractors, most of the Indian infrastructure projects are situated in the neighbouring countries of Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar. However, a vast majority of these investments have faced chronic delays, or even halted, due to a myriad of challenges. Access to unimpeded land in these neighbouring countries is among the most significant reasons why India’s infrastructure projects get bogged down. This is due to both the Indian and host governments’ lack of expert and technical capacity on land issues – including on managing records, property right frameworks, litigation and lack of enforcement, or deficiencies in surveying.